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What is the National MetroLab Network?

The MetroLab Network is a national community of of more than 40 city-university partnerships focused on urban innovation, bringing university research and expertise in design, engineering and community engagement to local governments. MetroLab Network was launched in 2015 as part of the White House Smart Cities Initiative. Its primary purpose is to develop and deploy new technologies and methods to address challenges in the nation’s urban areas by connecting research universities with city programs. 

MetroLab Network website

Colorado MetroLab

The Community Engagement Design and Research Center (CEDaR) at CU Boulder launched Colorado MetroLab in 2015 building on the principles of the national network. Through Colorado MetroLab the provost of the University of Colorado Boulder has entered into agreements with the mayors or city managers of Boulder, Longmont, Denver and Boulder County to collaborate on projects in those jurisdictions. A central feature of Colorado MetroLab is that university researchers and local government staff work together actively to identify and develop projects. Typically, the work itself is also done collaboratively. MetroLab projects are interdisciplinary and organized at CU Boulder in diverse settings including funded research, classes, design studios, policy workshops, internships and theses. The objective of Colorado MetroLab is to generate useful ideas, designs and proposals that can be tested through the research and implemented as an outcome. 

The Colorado MetroLab program is a commitment between CU Boulder and Colorado cities and counties based on MOUs between the university and municipalities. These provide a fiscal and project management framework supporting partnerships between students and faculty, and city, county or nonprofit staff. The agreements are designed to foster a long-term commitment to community-based applied research, including projects in environmental design, engineering, education and beyond. CEDaR's role has been to organize the MetroLab program in Colorado, develop the MOUs and work with other parts of the university to help stimulate and support projects.

We have started 21 university-local government partnership projects under Colorado MetroLab involving more than 600 students and 25 collaborating faculty and city staff. Among other accomplishments, we have done the following:

  • A Colorado MetroLab project has won MetroLab Network's March 2019  "Innovation of the Month" award, given to outstanding projects that involves local government and university partners. For this Colorado MetroLab project, CU Boulder partnered with Denver to develop the Green Infrastructure Decision Tool, a data-rich forecasting and action tool that assesses the effects of growth and climate change on built and natural urban surfaces. Read the article in Government Technology (GT) magazine.
  • Five teams from CU Boulder submitted proposals for the Civic Innovation Challenge, a national competition run by MetroLab Network. More info coming soon!
  • A number of proposal have been submitted, leading to several awards and contracts from local governments and foundations.

Colorado MetroLab Projects


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MetroLab Summit

MetroLab — a national network of more than 40 city-university partnerships focused on urban innovation — hosted its MetroLab Network 2019 Annual Summit in Boulder, Colo., Sept. 19-20, 2019, and CEDaR co-hosted it with the city of Boulder! The Summit brought together leaders from local governments, universities, industry and nonprofits and will be an opportunity to share, discuss and present on the impact of data, analytics and technology on local government. 

Through its prestigious panelists, the Summit spotlights the importance and benefits of collaborating with academia on projects from urban planning to civic data integration to the implementation of technology for community referral services. The Summit also showcases smart city collaborative projects and will include fun activities, including a reception in which attendees and panelists can network in an informal setting.

MetroLab Summit History

Since MetroLab Networks’ launch in 2015 as part of the White House Smart Cities Initiative, there have been two annual summits. The first summit in 2017 was held in Atlanta, Georgia, and hosted by the Georgia Institute of Technology, and last year's summit was hosted by the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, New Jersey.

Examples of Past Summit Panels:

Technology for Civic Data Integration, focused on how governments are building integrated data systems from a technology perspective.

Land Use in the Age of Smart Cities & Smart Mobility, discussed how technology and data affects cities at a macro- and micro-level. It also explored how data, mapping, visualization,and prediction are presenting opportunities for city planners, as well as how new technologies affect cities at the street level, e.g. dockless bikes and increased freight.

Making Civic Research a University Priority,  focused on how universities are increasingly harnessing their intellectual assets – their faculty, researchers, and students – to drive civic innovation. The panel explored how some universities have created an academic culture that encourages and incentivizes engagement with civic partners, including cities, industry and nonprofits. It also addressed how universities have created programs and institutes, like CU Boulder's CEDaR Center, that house city-university collaboration.

Examples of Summit post-lunch breakout sessions:

Ethics and Algorithms Workshop Though data algorithms are inevitable, they are inherently biased. During this workshop, a team from the Center for Government Excellence introduced a new toolkit that helps assess risk factors and identify mitigations in a real-world context.

Mapping for Air Quality Impact  Cities have a powerful and underappreciated resource for understanding and fighting air pollution and climate change. The session explored how city leaders can design – and see the results of – climate and clean air investments that maximize local impact.

Examples of past Summit speakers:

  • Bill Skerpan, innovation & analytics manager, city of Boulder
  • Nancy LeaMond, EVP & chief advocacy and engagement officer, AARP
  • Governor Martin O’Malley, 61st governor of Maryland and 47th mayor of Baltimore
  • Rayid Ghani, director of the Center for Data Science and Public Policy, University of Chicago
  • 2018 Summit Keynote: Beth Noveck, chief innovation officer for the state of New Jersey. 


More information about MetroLab Summit 2019